For those of you that missed “Technical Difficulties Sunday” as our worship leader, Sean, so eloquently described it, you missed a wild time. I won’t bore you with a list of everything that either went wrong or created significant stress or delays, but I will say that we ended up clipping a worship song and not doing any sermon slides just to prevent any more issues. Children’s Ministry had their own challenges, as well. It was as stressful Sunday, much more so than normal.
It did occur to me right as we were about to pray, as a worship team before practice, that often the Sundays we have the most technical issues end up being significant in the spiritual life of one or more of our people, for some reason. It’s like the powers of darkness know great good is going to happen and they do whatever they can think of to try to stop it. It never works… good always happens, God is always glorified… and, as was the case this morning, I end up getting a great sermon illustration out of the deal.
Now, I should clarify… I got a great sermon ILLUSTRATION for what was a pretty lame sermon. No, no, I’m learning to have a slightly more objective view of my sermons and not simply an automatically negative view of things. The sermon from two weeks ago was a good one. Today’s message just wasn’t coming together very well. It didn’t feel particularly insightful, it didn’t really present much in the way of “new perspective on ancient thought,” and even I could tell that my voice was communicating my own sort of “blah” about the material (Ephesians 5:1-20, btw). But then God gave me this great illustration that tied it all up at the end… and illustration that was more of a “confession” of how God led me to use “thankfulness” to combat the dark thoughts I was having about all the problems I and the rest of the team was encountering today.
I mention this because I’m (sorta) sad to tell you that the sermon didn’t record properly this Sunday. So, there’s no sermon podcast this week for those of you that had to miss our time together for one reason or another. I’m only sort of sad because, like I said, I thought the message was largely “blah” and one of the lesser inspiring sermons I’ve given in a while…. with the exception of the last illustration… so, I’m going to write out a summarized version as best I can remember. I think it could be helpful to you to think about and to try to put into practice.
(and no, I don’t mean the hypothetical story about me cheating on my wife with a girl named “Plastic Cup.” Oh yes… you missed an interesting illustration there, too. And a great four minute fight clip from the first Matrix movie. All relevant to the material).
The illustration that seemed to speak most to the people I heard feedback from was at the very end. I mentioned all the trouble I was having this morning and how it was leading me to “impure thoughts”, but maybe not in the way people might think of “impure thoughts.” Sure, there’s lust and malice and whatever else, but one set of “impure,” “obscene” and “foolish” thinking/talk is a mental activity many of us do more often than we’d like to admit…
It’s when we start having negative thoughts towards others about the trouble we are currently experiencing. Like when I am having a hard day at work and then my mind switches to my wife being at home with our kids. And then I start thinking that she has it “easier” than me and that I would rather be home and I’m tired and she doesn’t get it and I start feeling more and more critical of her only to come home having had all these “talks” with her in my head about how she doesn’t appreciate me, support me, or understand me and then I blow up at her over something small and stupid. That’s obscene, impure thoughts and they attack my relationship with my wife because I let them. None of this is her fault.
Or, and ladies, don’t lie about this one, when you have the dream that your husband cheated on you with your best friend… it’s just a dream, but the emotions feel real and you wake up angry at your husband and being cold, mean, or rude to him… because his fictional self created by your mind in your dream cheated on you… and what fault does he have in ANY of it…? Big fat zero! But you let the “obscene” and “foolish” take over in the form of “impure thoughts” and it’s ruining your relationship with your husband. And he didn’t do anything.
For me, it was allowing obscene thoughts that I was going to get to the school late to setup for church (for reasons that were not my fault) and “everyone” was going to give me a hard time about it, and I work hard, and I have to preach a sermon, too, and I am here every morning with the church truck while others are laying in bed deciding whether they’ll show up or not, and I’m one of the last one’s to leave and blah blah blah blah blah, self-pity, self-pity, self-pity, unfair accusations, unfair accusations, bad attitude, bad attitude… and the first thing that happens to me when I show up with the truck is “everyone” says “hi” and Sean, in particular, greets me with a huge smile and a “these things happen, don’t sweat it, I’ll take care of this” and let’s me go have five minutes to myself to collect my thoughts.
The “obscenity” was allowing the powers of darkness to drive my thoughts away from “reality” (that I’m surrounded by great people who work hard and look out for me and show me grace and love me, my quirks, and my challenges and who invite me to speak into their lives) and instead, I was being drawn into the “impurity” of reality. See, “impurity” on a technical level just means that something is “mixed in” that just doesn’t belong there. Impure gold is simply gold that has other metals mixed in that don’t belong there. Whether or good or bad, the point is that purity has been compromised. And a lot of times, we allow “impurities” in our thoughts… things that aren’t real, caricatures of people we care about, expectations that are false, lies, exaggerations… and those impure thoughts drive us to sin against the very people we love most.
So what’s the cure? Paul tells us that “Thankfulness” is the cure. In fact, Paul suggests in the same passage that “thankfulness and worship music” are the cures to a drinking problem (interesting, someone should tell AA about this), but I didn’t get into that this week.
See, Paul is right. What got my mind out of the gutter (and yes, negative thoughts towards others is “gutter” thinking) was forcing out the impure thoughts by prayers of thankfulness. I thanked God for a lot of things… like the great relationships I have with everyone that was helping setup for worship this morning. I thanked God that we had good backup plans for some of the technical issues. I thanked God for my family, that my worship pastor happens to be one of my closest friends (a rarity in many churches) and that he appreciates me and is considerate of me, that I saw so many familiar faces this morning along with several new faces, and had lots of great conversations. I thanked God for a great custodian at the school, for a school faculty that actually likes us (another rarity), and for a safe, warm place to worship together.
I noticed that two things happened… being thankful killed the obscene thoughts I was having towards others and prevented other obscenities from taking over… and being thankful made me more thankful for the many blessings in my life that far outweigh the challenges and hardships.
It took me a while to get back to my “normal” self, partly because I hadn’t had adequate time to wake up and warm up before I was plunged into the adrenaline shock of the morning challenges (so I both had to rev up and cool down… not easy to do both at once). We have to give ourselves a little grace for the physical/chemical reactions we can have in the midst of stress and take a time out now and then. But even in that, my mind was clear and able to endure the myriad of other technical challenges that came up throughout the day without being a big jerk to everyone. All because of thankfulness.
So, I’m sorry you missed the sermon (if you missed it), but I hope my recollection of what I think was the most impacting part is helpful to you this week. When stuff is “falling apart,” fight the obscene thoughts towards others or your circumstance with a dose of thankfulness. Start thanking God creatively and you might even reach the point of realizing God’s sovereignty in the circumstances… and come to recognize that if He thinks this is all for the best, then it truly is. And that realization alone is worth thanking Him.
P.S. I’m also thankful that I serve a church that allows me to be this honest about my own sins ans shortcomings. I hope you feel safe to share your sins and weaknesses, too. Or at least, are starting to feel a little safer each week. This kind of honesty will lead us closer and closer to God and to a life lived more like Jesus Christ.